A ticking time bomb: the population issue in Pakistan
Pakistan is facing a number of formidable challenges, including poverty reduction, unemployment, economic development, water scarcity and food insecurity. The total population in Pakistan, according to the latest census, is 210 million, making it the sixth-most populous country after China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil.
The country ranks a miserable 147th on the Human Development Index, while its population growth of 1.92 percent is among the highest in the region, which is an alarming situation. According to experts, if its population continues to grow at the current rate it is likely to double in the next 37 years, which would make Pakistan the third-most populous country in the world.
The population problem lies at the heart of Pakistan’s social, economic and political woes and has created so-far insurmountable and complicated challenges to the country’s economic growth. The population momentum we are experiencing has contributed to an escalated cost of living, which is responsible for macroeconomic instability on the one hand, and poverty, income disparities and social collapse on the other.
A desirable level of economic growth and development is regarded as that which leads to a relatively quick rising trend in the per capita income of the people. Population becomes a problem when a relationship between its growth and the growth of outputs fails to emerge. In developing countries such as Pakistan, where population growth has reached the point of diminishing returns, this can be translated simply as heavy population pressure on increasingly limited resources. Since per capita income is already low, the majority of the population lives at the level of bare subsistence. This in turns inhibits economic development.
Also, an increasing rate of growth means the proportion of children is higher and therefore so is the degree of dependency. This reduces the margin of expenditure that could be used for the accumulation of capital stock to strengthen the foundations of the economy.
In developing countries such as Pakistan, where population growth has reached the point of diminishing returns, this can be translated simply as heavy population pressure on increasingly limited resources.
Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba
Pakistan has 0.6 percent of the world’s land mass, ranking 34th in the world in terms of total area. Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy, and it is heavily reliant on irrigation. Supplies of arable land and water for irrigation are unlikely to increase, calling into question Pakistan’s ability to feed itself. Population pressures are also threatening arable land, forests and water resources, with the result that the amount of land available for arable use has considerably decreased due to population growth.
Social scientists and development economists have been debating the seriousness of the consequences of this rapid population growth in Pakistan. Environmentalists have highlighted the fact that this growth, along with attempts to improve the Gross Domestic Product, have put immense pressure on the country’s natural resources and significantly increased the levels of pollution. Rapid expansion in industrial production and urbanization has led to increased levels of industrial waste, water pollution, solid waste and vehicle emissions that have resulted in serious health problems in many areas.
The major factors responsible for high population growth in Pakistan include: high fertility; the low use of contraceptives — the rate is decreasing rather than increasing and currently stands at 30 percent; a high level of unmet need for family-planning services; declining mortality; the custom of early marriages; gender preference at birth; poverty; illiteracy, especially among women; a lack of female empowerment; religious constraints; and local beliefs, customs and traditions.
Policies and programs introduced by the government to contain the uninhibited growth of the population have not resulted in the desired successes. Deeply entrenched in religious and sociocultural beliefs, the common man does not realize the negative economic consequences of this explosive population growth. Therefore it has become a critical issue, one which discourages economic development and must be seriously addressed.
Public-awareness campaigns and behavioral-change programs, implemented with the involvement of the media, can be helpful to inform and sensitize people about the necessity of exercising control over the size of their families. If we look at the success stories from neighboring countries, encouraging the use a “safe period” for family planning, or voluntary male sterilization could perhaps be tried in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan recently expressed serious concern about the high population growth in the country and asked the government to develop a uniform policy to defuse this population time bomb. The court has also asked the government to organize seminars, conduct research and study examples of other countries that have successfully tackled the population issue.
– Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba is a freelance consultant working in the area of environment and health. She has a keen interest in climate change and its effects on population health and human security.